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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Time to put those late-night online shopping sprees on ice

A new app called Icebox allows consumers to put web purchases on hold to give them time to reconsider impulse buying

Illustration by Gary Clement
Illustration by Gary Clement

The box was too small and it was not what I'd ordered. Inside were doll-sized shoes instead of ones that would fit a strapping 10-year-old - easy mistake to make at sleep-o’clock.

Being online in the dead of night is terrible at best and very expensive at worst. Luckily for me, my spree didn’t set me back too much. But some spend tens of thousands doing this over the course of the year.

Welcome to the world of night-time online shopping, where tired brains can browse outlets that never close. The result? A growing vampire economy where vulnerable consumers are on the prowl for deals not to be missed. I say vulnerable because it’s people whose mental capacities are depleted. Our willpower is spent by that time (it’s like a muscle that gets increasingly tired the more it’s used); couple this with insomnia, be it for health, digitally, or chemically induced reasons, and you’ve got people who are easily parted with their cash. Stories of people receiving things they’d ordered when they weren’t 100 per cent with it make for entertaining reading.

When you know that UAE consumers top the list of online shoppers in the Middle East – it’s worrying, especially if trends elsewhere are anything to go by.

Last year Barclays-funded research found that while online purchasing and browsing peaks between 10pm and midnight, one in ten consumers is still busy buying things between midnight and 3am. This was in the UK. Credit card debt in the US crossed a milestone this summer – standing at the highest ever in US history. I wonder how much is due to online impulse buys. It costs British adults £1.06 billion ($1.41bn) per year according to a recent survey. 78.2 per cent have succumbed to impulsive online shopping, and regret is their number one post-shopping issue.

One-click transactions, credit card details saved, delivery services that are getting quicker, and enticing emails of offers that are perfect – for you. None of this helps.

It’s time for us to outsmart the smart tech.

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Read more from Nima Abu Wardeh:

Don't get sucked into unnecessary spending - think about the opportunity cost involved

The magic formula that decides how early we retire

Protect your heart from the romance scammers

Beware of your smart device - it could be stealing your money

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Thankfully, there are people doing this. Last month saw the launch of an app that puts a stop to your online purchases – for a set time.

Icebox is a free Chrome plugin from Finder.com – a comparison website - that replaces the ‘buy’ button on over 400 online stores – including Amazon, and Etsy. It gives you a breather between choosing and paying. When installed, it turns those big tempting 'buy' buttons into buttons that instead read 'on ice'. The idea is to give the urge to buy time to chill – because our temptation wanes with time.

All the items you choose are put into a virtual shopping basket, similar to an Amazon basket, and stay there until the cool-down period is over. You can set the on-hold period for up to 30 days.

Online impulse buying is huge – the spend is significant, and most people don’t return the items they end up with. Marketing firms are peddling it as an opportunity not to be missed. Here’s what they say: “With this ‘Vampire Economy’ expected to grow, how can marketers leverage this trend and ensure their commerce strategies tap into the consumer desire for late-night purchases?”

Loosely translated: how can we get more spend out of people online, at night, who can be influenced to click ‘buy now’. They’ll never send it back, even if they don’t need or want it, and you – company X - will make loads of money.

UAE shoppers are ripe for this. They currently rack up the highest transaction levels of $332 per online purchase according to a KPMG survey of consumer habits in 51 countries.

The corporate world conclusion? There are significant opportunities for growth as UAE consumers currently shop online less often than the global average – and spend more when they do.

How many times have you bought things you don’t need and can ill afford online?

As for my miniature shoes – I might just keep them, and put them on display as a sort of consumer-inspired instillation-come reminder of what can happen.

Bedtime is not for browsing. If you skimp on sleep, it will cost you.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on finding-nima.com